15 July 2017

Public Meeting Held Aldridge Community Centre 14th July 2017

This isn't one of my usual blogs. It is a summary of the meeting that was held last night at Aldridge Community Centre, called for by the residents of Aldridge in response to an unusual number of high profile crimes committed in Aldridge in recent months and in particular the tragic murder of James Brindley.

Firstly, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to James' parents, sister, wider family and his friends. To lose a child is for me, unimaginable, to lose a child in this manner is beyond tragic. Your statements and public appearances demonstrate a dignity and courage that is admirable, your faces betrayed the terrible pain you suffer. You are in my thoughts every day.

This summary is in no way intended to reflect everything that was said at the meeting. It is not intended to be a verbatim report or a  set of minutes. It's merely a personal summing up  made from my notes and from my impressions.

Apparently a full recording has been made and will be available soon, as will a set of minutes. I'm not sure where they will be published. We all witness things in different ways and you, if you were present, may have heard or taken on board things that were said, completely differently to me.

A big thank you to those who facilitated the organisation of the meeting, including Jean Ash, Russell Smith, John Morris and Erika Stanton-Bullock.

Top Table: Wendy Morton MP - Chair, Inspector Sophie Worthington WMP, Superintendent Sue Parker WMP (in charge of policing in Walsall), Sgt. Mari Amos WMP (Aldridge), Lynette Kelly Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner West Midlands, Cllr Lee Jeavons Walsall Council, Cllr Tim Wilson Aldridge Central, Cllr John Murray Aldridge Central, Rev John Coyne Rector of Aldridge, Erika Stanton-Bullock

To assist everyone here is a LINK providing details of the local policing team and another LINK detailing the area they cover. This is a LINK for details of your local councillors.

Also in the audience were Cllr John Rochelle Aldridge Central, all three councillors for Aldridge North and Walsall Wood Messrs Clarke, Harris and Sears plus I also spotted Cllr Richard Worrall from Rushall and Cllr Steve Wade from Brownhills.

I'm not sure of exact figures in attendance but seating was for 200. This was all taken and there was an overflow of people into the side room and the foyer so possibly 300 to 350. I stand to be corrected if anyone has the actual figures.

There was an agenda and also a list of pre submitted questions. Alas neither were really followed and not all the questions were addressed, as the meeting ran out of time.

Following opening comments and thanks from Wendy Morton, Rev Coyne read out a short message from the family of James Brindley and a minutes silence was held.

Supt Parker gave an update on the murder investigation, thanked the community for the support that the Police had received and reflected on social media commentary that day, which in her opinion had been unhelpful. She pointed out that they were still in the early stages of a complex investigation and that comments could have an impact upon that investigation. Comments should be respectful to James' family and should not jeopardise the investigation.

The first question concerned what action was being taken to protect the community. Supt Parker recognised that detailing the low crime statistics doesn't always give reassurance and recognised that in a short space of time there had been a spike in significant crimes that was unusual for Aldridge. Investigations were ongoing in all those crimes. She spoke about the local neighbourhood team and that they would not be seen every day and on every shift. They are dedicated to the local area and aim to build up partnerships with local community groups, neighbourhood watch, the council and councillors and engage with the community. She acknowledged the high levels of support that the Police received from the residents of Aldridge. Backing up the neighbourhood team are response teams and other support. She pointed out that resources had to be prioritised to high areas of demand such as Walsall Town Centre.

The local neighbourhood team consists of one Sergeant, four PCs and 6 PCSOs. The team is on until midnight and is based in Aldridge. Cover in the evenings is based upon need. Recently there have been other resources brought into Aldridge in the form of reassurance patrols plus other support.  Supt Parker said the policing was effective and smart. It was confirmed that although patrols are made outside of the immediate area of Aldridge centre, they were not made frequently and were directed to areas where problems had been reported.

Cllr Wilson agreed that the local councillors do work closely with the Police but said there needed to be an increase in numbers. Cllr Murray commented that perhaps people did not appreciate all of the jobs that the Police have to do.

The second question concerned  CCTV for Aldridge, funding for that and for increased lighting in certain areas such as the Croft.

Cllr Jeavons spoke on behalf of the council and said he was pleased to see such a good attendance and saw that the community was united. He described  the CCTV for the whole of the Borough as archaic. There are currently 90 fixed CCTV and 20 mobile CCTV units for the whole Borough. The Council are investing £450K in a new system. The council would not be adding to any CCTV in their control in the area unless the 'spike' in crime became a 'trend', then there might be change. He added that Aldridge was still a great place to live.

Cllr Jeavons explained that street lighting was for the illumination of the highways and not for security purposes so there would be no additional lighting provided however, the Council is now investing in new LED lighting, which is a white light and gives greater clarity and shows events up better on CCTV. He did not know how many CCTV cameras there were in Aldridge but would find out and pass the information on.

Several questions were asked by members of the audience regarding specific problem areas such as Middlemore Lane where drug dealing often takes place along with car crime etc and also regarding anti-social behaviour including one particular heartfelt plea from a resident who is at his wits end and with regard to the latter asked how he could get help because the social landlord was not helping at all. Mention was also made of the sign in Middlemore Lane advising that there was CCTV. Residents had  only discovered that there was no camera, just a sign when crimes had been committed and had not been recorded.

The Police reiterated their close working relationships with partners including social landlords and licencees. They also explained that they were now responsible for dealing with and recording crime that was previously 'hidden' such as domestic violence and child trafficking. With regards to anti social behaviour, if a police partner (any partner, social landlord, council etc) was not providing the assistance it was thought was needed, then a person can use the 'Community Trigger Process'.

The Assistant PCC Lynette Kelly, explained a little of how the office of PCC works. The PCC sets policies for the Police but these are carried out by the Chief Constable. They are there to support neighbourhoods. They do not have a budget for CCTV as if money was used in that way it would have to come straight out of front line policing budgets. The PCC does have  a small budget for special projects. Lynette acknowledged that in the last few weeks there had been problems with the 101 number.

There were then a number of comments and questions from the audience covering speeding vehicles, noise from vehicles, more on the problems around the community centre in the form of racing cars and drug dealing and taking. There was also a question about how we move forward.

The Police advice was to log car registration numbers and to make reports on 101. Letters would be sent to registered owners. The public are the Police's eyes and ears and there was encouragement to the public to sign up for WM Now and to monitor Police twitter and facebook accounts. People were encouraged to report by social media too HOWEVER a note from me here...do not report crime on twitter. Every Police twitter account I have ever seen states categorically that crime must not be reported on twitter! The public can still make face to face contact with local officers through pop up events. The Police recognise the 'spike' in crime levels in Aldridge, they are grateful for the public support and want to move forward by building on neighbourhood policing and their partnerships.

One audience member asked for clarification of what number should be called, 999 or 101. This followed a particularly disturbing incident that she had witnessed outside a funeral directors when an elderly man was surrounded by 20 young men who had been behaving in an anti social manner. It took 101 50 minutes to respond. Questions were raised about crime prevention.

The police acknowledged that the response for the incident mentioned was not acceptable. They asked that 999 not be used unnecessarily as there was a risk to people if it was misused. They also acknowledged that there were challenges with 101 at present due to a high demand, not just locally but nationally.  The volume of calls in the last three weeks has been equivalent to New Years Eve (traditionally the busiest day of the year) every single day. There has been an unprecedented level of demand. 101 was the number to be used for non-emergencies although there is a risk assessment with every call as to whether the situation required an immediate response or not.

In summary of the meeting as a whole, what was clear from the audience was the they were frustrated by reactive policing and wanted proactive policing instead. Crime prevention was given scant regard. From the top table the message was that it is not an option for the number of police officers in Aldridge to be increased. Aldridge still has the lowest crime rate in the area and other areas need the resources. It is clear that more liaison with licensees regarding crime and CCTV and the need for good security is needed. It was acknowledged from the audience and the top table that there has been 'something' serious going wrong in society as a whole and not just Aldridge.

There was insufficient time to cover questions about drug taking, the local (closed to the public) police station, provision for young people, crime prevention and steps that could be taken by individuals for personal safety.

The Chair gave each of the top table an opportunity to make some final remarks.

Rev, Coyne acknowledged the deep sense of frustration apparent at the meeting. He suggested that the needs of the community needed to be recorded and he was happy to open the churches in Aldridge for individual experiences to be captured. Cllr Murray also acknowledged the frustration too, reiterated that they would continue to work closely with the police and asked that everyone kept feeding information back to the local councillors and  get in touch with them either by phone, email or at their regular surgeries, so that they would be aware of community feeling. Cllr Wilson thanked everyone for attending, also acknowledged the sense of frustration and expressed the hope that things would change. Cllr Jeavons also thanked everyone, repeated that new LED lighting and CCTV was on the way and acknowledged the closeness and passion of the community. Supt. Parker touched on the difference between reality and perception with regards to robberies. She encouraged everyone to participate in their local neighbourhood watch, also mentioned the active citizen scheme and thanked everyone for their support. Sgt Amos appealed for everyone to sign up to their local neighbourhood watch. Lynette Kelly said that the PCC was aware of the problems around 101. Enough staff were needed to do the job and pressure was being put on the Chief Constable. She also pointed out that WMP are now actively recruiting officers despite the fact that their budget had been reduced by central government to the tune of £145 million since 2011. She said that they did the best they could with the money available.

There was some talk about agreed actions but my understanding at the meeting was that apart from Rev Coyne's suggestion there were no agreed actions actually made at the meeting. I believe they were agreed afterwards or perhaps I just missed what happened because it was fairly chaotic by that time, with lots of people talking over one another! I will update on what will/may happen next, when I know.

I asked about a dozen people after the meeting if they felt it had done any good. Every single person said that their frustrations remained and that they didn't think it had done any good. This is a pity because people had worked hard to bring this together. The other problem was the 'P' word; politics. There was an attempt to keep it out of the meeting but this failed, first on the top table by one of our local councillors, then another and then failure in the audience too. My personal view is that you cannot keep politics out of a meeting such as this. Reason? Policing requires a large budget. That budget, set by national government has been reduced enormously since 2011. No matter how close a community is, no matter how much they all work together to reduce problems, the real elephant in the room was that there are not enough police in situ to be able to deal with the problems in society we have or to fund CCTV etc. As soon as our  representatives, be it in local or national government, communicate this to their leaders, the sooner we may see progress.

Personally I too felt the frustration of the audience. I also felt and heard anger, passion and heartbreak. There were many interruptions, some heckling, some shouting. It was a normal public meeting. I sincerely hope that some good will come of it. We could make a good start by tackling the appalling lack of youth provision in Aldridge and in Walsall as a whole.

Please don't shoot the messenger!

EDIT: I am making this edit because apparently people are up in arms (so I am told although I am not sure of the veracity of the source) at me having the audacity to publish a personal summary of the meeting. I have made it clear at the beginning of this blog that this is a personal summary and that it is not a set of minutes. I'm sure any local media outlets that bother to read this blog will have taken that on board and will not confuse the blabbering of a mad old baggage with official accounts of the meeting, links to which will be published in due course. I am concerned that free speech may be an endangered species. I do so hope that it isn't as that will mean I am endangered too! Thank you for reading and please comment if you have any questions or require clarification of any points I make. I am always happy to engage in polite discussion !

FURTHER EDIT 17/07/17: Although official minutes are yet to be published, you can now listen to the whole meeting HERE. It's not the best recording in the world, there is a lot of fading in and out but if you're interested, stick with it. It's a great thing whoever did the recording and thank you (sorry I don't know your names). Please comment and we will acknowledge your contribution to the community.

1 comment:

  1. Well done..feelings and frustrations of all well reported.